Gang of Four: Return The Gift

The Marxist funk is back. Not quite as funky, though. In fact, the newly re-grouped Gang Of Four sounds a lot more garage these days. Gone are the days of glossy textured songs with jagged edges-the new GOF have abandoned the veneer in favor of sonically jamming one’s head through a shopping mall window.

Yes, that’s how the early stuff sounded anyway, but as the Four progressed, the albums got slicker. Smoother textures and well-lubricated production on albums such as “Mall” and “Songs of the Free” disguised themselves as commercial releases, booby-trapped with themes of suburban despair and credit card woes.

Return The Gift is the group’s entry in the ‘let’s re-model our back catalogue’ game, and while the results aren’t disastrous, some of these songs can’t really hold up in the cold glare of the originals. For seasoned fans of the group, the stripped-down “Damaged Goods” is particularly suspect; the original athletic bass lines have been dropped in favor of a less complicated arrangement. While still energetic, it lacks some of the original left-of-center feel.

The band does best sticking to its more aggressive and less polished work. “To Hell With Poverty”, “Natural’s Not In It” and “Not Great Men” are all fiery and good. Two decades old now, Gang Of Four still summons the energy that makes these tracks shine. The best moments include “Anthrax”, and a restrained version of “What We All Want”.

Return The Gift seems to be a reorientation trip-the band is clearly winding themselves up to get a new album going. For newcomers, this album has the appeal-but not the overproduced polish-of Franz Ferdinand and the like. The rest of us can trip down memory lane, in hopes that a disc full of originals is coming soon.

Collectors and GOF completists will want to scour the internet for the limited-edition double disc version of Return The Gift, which includes a second disc of Gang of Four cover versions by groups including Hot Hot Heat, Ladytron, the Dandy Warhols and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

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